Wednesday, September 26, 2007

President Chen for Chairman, Again?

One of the quirks of Taiwan's Constitution is the weakness of the Presidency. During the martial law era, and into the presidency of Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan's presidents derived their political clout from their position as Chairman of the Party, not from occupying the chief office of a government that was never intended to be more than the candy coating over a Leninist one-party state.

That precedent has unfortunately carried over into the DPP era. One problem the DPP has always faced is that its only model for how a political party should conduct itself is the KMT. During his first administration President Chen was also the party Chairman. That's far too much responsibility for one man, but that's the way it has always been done in that's the way it was done, much to the detriment of the DPP.

Last week DPP Chairman Yu was indicted for receipt forgery and stepped down as party Chairman, leaving the post open amid plenty of speculation over who should be the next chair. Immediately President Chen's name came up. The Taipei Times reported that Su Tseng-chang, the Vice Presidential candidate, had come out in favor of Chen:

"It is true that the party would be stronger and better integrated in terms of campaign strategy if the president were the chairman," Su told reporters yesterday morning as he returned from St. Lucia, where he served as Chen's envoy.


The DPP caucus on Saturday urged Chen to consider doubling as DPP chairman.

Yu, who was campaigning for the party in Toronto at the time, faxed his intended resignation late on Friday night, but added on Saturday that he would not leave his post until after the party's 21st anniversary and national congress, scheduled for Sunday.

Yu had said on Monday he would like to fulfill his responsibilities and oversee the holding of the two major events.


This, however, drew criticism and speculation from DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh's (謝長廷) camp, which suspected Yu may have postponed his resignation until after the party congress to ensure that his amendment stipulating "Taiwan" as the national title appears in the party's final "normal country" resolution.

Hsieh's camp has questioned the timing of the passing of the draft, fearing it could scare off voters.

The Taipei Times also interviewed local political scientists, who seemed quite put off by the idea of a second Chen Chairmanship:

If the president were to become DPP chairman again, the fact that he controls the government as well as the party would leave him without a buffer zone to "shield him from US pressure" against actions taken by the party such as the proposed referendum on UN membership under the name "Taiwan," Lo said.

Both Lo and Chen Chao-jian said Hsieh, while not facing charges, faces a dilemma during the potential power struggle within the party.

"If the president takes over the DPP chairmanship, the next presidential election will become a duel between Chen Shui-bian and [Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate] Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九)," Chen Chao-jian said.

He said any interference by the president in Hsieh's presidential campaign would be obvious under these circumstances, and could end up "marginalizing" Hsieh in the campaign.

Lo agreed, saying that the president has always been better at setting political agendas than Hsieh.

"It is impossible for Hsieh to ask Yu to stay on as party chairman because Ma resigned [as KMT chairman] over his indictment in the special allowance case," Chen Chao-jian said.

"The best choice is to have someone from his own [Hsieh's] campaign assume the chairmanship, but this violates the party's regulations ... therefore, Hsieh cannot but agree to having Chen Shui-bian as head of the party," Chen Chao-jian said.

Lo said Hsieh had dealt with the indictment of Yu "inappropriately," referring to Hsieh's promise on Saturday that if elected he would push for an amnesty for government officials under investigation over their special fund expenditures.

Hsieh's move had distanced himself from Lu, Yu and Mark Chen, which has contributed to the divisions within the DPP and harmed his personal image, Lo said.

Hsieh's support of Yu's resignation also left him no maneuvering room in terms of other investigations he faces, Lo said.

However, Tseng Chien-yuan (曾建元), an assistant professor of public administration at Chung Hua University, said Hsieh's proposal of a pardon was a "courageous and proper act."

Tseng said Hsieh was proposing a solution not just to single cases but to a "universal problem inherent in traditional ethnic Chinese politics."

"This problem has turned our judiciary into a tool of political wrangling," Tseng said, adding that Hsieh's proposal showed the DPP candidate had done some thinking.

It's good to see the amnesty for the special funds cases still being discussed. Hopefully once Hsieh is elected that will be carried out.

It seems that even if Chen Shui-bian does not become DPP Chair, one of his people will. The DPP has done a good job of bringing up talent, so perhaps they will get someone young in the position who can gain some useful experience at the national level. Then again, perhaps they will get Chen Shui-bian. Either way, it appears that Chen is not going to quietly step into the Elder Statesman role that Lee Teng-hui has created.

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